Photos provided by Vanessa Arauz León.
Vanessa Arauz León interview on Women’s Soccer United.
Vanessa Arauz León is a former coach of Ecuador’s national women’s team. Arauz was the first woman to obtain the title of coach in Ecuador.
She also directed for five years, all categories of the Ecuatorian women’s national team. Arauz made history by leading Ecuador to qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup for the first time.
At the age of 26, she achieved a Guinness record in 2015 as the youngest coach in the FIFA Women’s World Cup. She also is the youngest coach, male or female, in the history of both the men’s and women’s FIFA World Cup tournaments.
She resigned of the Ecuadorian national team to seek new challenges in March 2018.
Women’s Soccer United: First of all, I would like to congratulate you for the work you have done leading the Ecuadorian women’s football. It must have been a difficult decision to drop the women’s national team. What are your current plans and goals? Do they still involve women’s football?
Vanessa Arauz León: Yes. It was one of the toughest decisions of my life and after working for 6 years with the national team it became part of my life. But I needed to pause and make a change in my life. I wanted to study again and learn more about football. That’s why I postulated myself for a Master in high levels football in Barcelona, Spain, for the MBP School of Coaches.
After ending my Master I’m planning to go back to my country and start coaching a women’s team again. Regarding women’s football, I’m still 100% committed to it. Actually, in these days the book “Pelota De Papel 3” (Ball of Paper 3) is about to come out. It’s a book where female players and coaches gather together to tell their stories in women’s football. It’s a beautiful project that will surely make some noise around the world. My main inspiration when I got involved in women’s football was to help others to become better people, through football.
WSU: Currently, how do you see the reality of women’s football in Ecuador?
Vanessa: Nowadays, women’s football in my country is in a transition, it’s changing.
Back in 2013 the amateur championship started with 16 teams. The year after that it got divided in two groups, A and B, with 12 teams each and then it got bigger with the promotion and relegation zones.
It was like that until 2018. Since then it started to decrease for different factors, such as economic problems. But nowadays Liga Femenina is going to be released, which will be amateur too but at the same time it’s going to be semi professional because it will create an alliance of women’s clubs already existent along with men’s professional clubs.
That’s going to be the way to reach professionalism in women’s football, for now.
Because of the qualifiers for the last World Cup in Canada, many players started to play oversees, in Spain, at the Colombian professional League and in the different universities of United States. This has generated an awakening on the players, now they know they need to be better prepared and face the different challenges, giving the best of themselves.
I know and I have trust that, little by little, the structure of women’s football in my country will improve.
WSU: In your opinion, what needs to be done to develop women’s football in your country?
Vanessa: Since I started to work with the national team, I realised that the biggest deficit in our country is the lack of structure in the development of our footballers when it comes to younger generations. There’s no competition for kids or adolescents, you can only find that kind of competition at primary schools or high schools and at CONMEBOL Liga de Desarrollo (CONMEBOL Development League) with the U-16 and U-17 that started back in 2017.
But besides those, we have just a few schools of women’s football. The average age to start to train is 9-12 and usually they don’t and can’t achieved all the phases of the learning process.
We should create a development system at a young age, and start to categorise the girls according to their age (U-8, U-10, U-12, U-15, U-17) so the girls can compete against other girls their own age. That will help them to grow and be formed at different stages and so they won’t be lacking the technical part and athleticism when they get to the high level.
WSU: What needs to be done for women’s football to develop as a whole in Latin America?
Vanessa: Latin America is full of amazing, talented players. The problem is we don’t have the structure, the schools, the competition… and that makes them fall short when they have to face countries with a better development of its players.
I think we need to go to the root of the problem, meaning the formation and developing process the players go through at all levels, specially at a young age, what will allow them to grow in the long and short term.
We need to change the attitude as well. The federations need to see it as a business opportunity and not as a bad investment. They need to see it as a sport that gives women the opportunity of growing, of having a scholarship in another country so they can make a living out of it.
Women’s Soccer United: How do you think the participation of the South American teams will be in the next Women’s World Cup?
Vanessa: Women’s soccer quality is growing and growing, and much more now that many South American players are playing in USA and Europe, which gives them a bigger professionalism and competition at the highest level and that’s very important.
Brazil has always been a power house in South America having Marta, the best player in the world, and the other Brazilian players that playing in other countries, showing what they can do, away from Marta’s shadow, and that are going to play She Believes Cup as part of their preparation for the World Cup. we hace a similar case with Chile, where nearly 50% of the players from the national team are playing in the best leagues of Europe because of their qualifying for the World Cup and the great quality their showed in the last Copa America. Besides, they played friendlies against USA, Italy, Cataluña, Australia as part of their road to France.
And in the case of Argentina, we have many players that worked in the shadows for years, at their local or international clubs. And despite the economic problems the country’s facing they have good support. Proof of this is the fact that they’re going to participate in the Cup of Nations 2019 in Australia as part of their preparation for France.
I’m sure their participation at the tournament will be good, with Brazil with loads of experience and giving their all till the end since many of the historic Brazilian players announced this World Cup will probably be their last.
If we talk about Chile, they have a good team that believes in their players and they are convinced they can show why they’re there, competing against the best.
Argentina are in the middle of a fight to get the respect they deserve. They want to show women can play.
We still are struggling when we have to face the power houses of football for the reasons I said before, the lack of international competition and the lack of player development in each country.
But times are changing and women’s football is awakening in South America, trying to take its rightful place.
Women’s Soccer United: You were the first female coach of Ecuador. Why do you think there are just a few female coaches in South America and how can we change that?
Vanessa: Honestly, when I started to study to become a coach I didn’t realise I was going to become the first professional coach of my country. Neither I thought I was going to be the second best student of my class, being the only women among 70 men. I learned that there are no gender differences that can prevent us to become a coach. You can make a difference by studying, preparing and believing in what you do and fight for it to the end.
We have just a few female coaches in South America because we don’t get the same job opportunities as the men, not because we don’t want to dedicate our lives to football. Even though now there are many women’s teams around the world, the men coaches are always first in the line and get most of the job opportunities. And even nowadays people still believe women don’t have the ability to lead a team.
Women’s Soccer United: Cite a woman coach you consider an inspiration and a model to be followed in the women’s game.
Vanessa: One of the female coaches that has been my inspiration to be where I am today is Pía Sundhage, who fought to make changes in women’s football. She has always been very professional but at the same time she’s this wonderful human been. There was an after and before in the US women’s national team when she took over the team, coaching what is the Golden Generation of that country and proved that is not necessary being harsh with your players for them to learn an specific drill or so they can learn to play football.
I think she’s a women that has given her all to this sport and has all the talent in the world to inspire and make the sport better.
Thank you to contributors @melinae07 and Izzy @IzzyWoso